Hello, it's Heather here. This has to be the most peculiar title for a book we’ve ever received, so my expectations for creativity were certainly high. As it’s a collection of short stories, I decided to structure my review differently for it. Many thanks to the author for letting me read this in exchange for a review.
Author: Andrew Kozma
Published: August 2016
Length: 44 pages
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Short Stories
Brief description (from Amazon)
A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs is a collection of weird, speculative fiction containing four stories of people exploring strange places and situations, from a newly-discovered civilization of six-foot-tall talking slugs to being haunted by a man in a dark chocolate suit. Whether waking up in a prison camp or navigating a city full of copies of themselves, the characters in these stories are bent on understanding their world, even if that understanding also means the end of the world they thought they knew.
Andrew Kozma’s fiction has been published in Drabblecast, Albedo One, Interzone, and Daily Science Fiction. His book of poems, City of Regret (Zone 3 Press, 2007), won the Zone 3 First Book Award. His previous collections of short fiction are The Year of the Stolen Bicycle Tire and Other Stories and You Have Been Murdered and Other Stories.
The first short story is an ominous tale about a man that finds himself in Stammlager 76, a sort of prison, with no recollection how he got there, or an inkling of how/when he would be released.
“The weather was complicit, the clouds always hovering above like a woolen blanket, so textured, so gray, that the sky itched just to look at it.”
Kozma does a spectacular job at setting the atmosphere in this little story. I hope he doesn’t mind that I’ve included my favourite quote above – what a wonderful line! Whilst concise, as needs be in a short story, his description captures the mood beautifully, using the simile of the clouds being an itchy blanket to reflect both the dark, almost claustrophobic entrapment of the sky (usually a symbol for freedom in literature), and also the frustration of the narrator, as well as the foreboding sense of being watched from the verb ‘hovering’. This thoughtful style of description is apparent in all of his stories. I did, however, feel that the story should have been a little longer, even if it was just an extra page to provide more development on how the narrator settles in, or a scene in which he meets other prisoners (aside from Aaron).
The Man in the Dark Chocolate Suit
This one is about a man dressed in a dark chocolate suit that haunts the narrator and his friend Joe, appearing everywhere he goes.
This story immediately draws the reader in; this time using dialogue first to exert urgency before settling into the, again very well written, description. It’s a well-executed short story very reminiscent of the ghost stories I recall hearing at Brownie camp that’d leave everyone with bad dreams (but in a far eloquent style). My main criticism is that I’d have liked more in the in-between stages of this one, more about how the taunting figure of the man in the dark chocolate suit irked the narrator, why he appeared and how, though the ending of the story was very good.
We of the Future are the Ghosts of the Past
As the title insinuates, this tale uses the symbolic interactionist idea of people having different versions of themselves as we change so drastically over time. It also focuses on death.
This is my favourite story in the collection. Remarkably creative, surreal, and tragic in the most composed manner. Not only does it examine the self, but also the way love alters over time. Sure, like the other stories, there are many unanswered questions, but I really loved the ambiguity of it, letting the reader come up with their own theories. I also liked the length of it, it felt whole, the reader can be attached to the narrator without requiring any of his background, which is really difficult for short stories to achieve. The paragraph about her voice is exquisite, such a pure and lovely way to show his feelings towards her.
Another (slightly random) thing to commend for the author on here is that they actually understand death! There are so many novels I’ve read that romanticise death without comprehending that, yes, gas is released and muscles relax, so there will be a… smell… it’s gross but realistic, and slightly ruins every magical moment when someone dies and their partner cradles their dead body… which leads me to the question: did Harry Potter go through this process when he kind of died in the last book?
A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs
At the title of this novel, of course I was curious about the whole slug thing, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Taking a more light-hearted style, this is literally about Roger going on holiday to Slugland, which is inhabited by giant slugs.
“…but I’d never believed I’d actually see a slug as tall as a man, wearing a fanny-pack, carrying a briefcase.”
Quite possibly the best quote I have ever included in a review. I cannot express my joy at having gone from three albeit very deep and eloquent short stories to this. It’s not often that writers can write well in both comedic and serious tones. The writer clearly had a lot of fun with this one, it’s uplifting and amusing. Roger himself was very distant, I’d have liked to have understood the appeal to going to Slugland more. Was it a little bit too weird for me? I’ll admit, the relationship between Roger and Shelly was concerning and perhaps a little too bizarre for me.
All four stories show an immense amount of creativity and are a fun, quick read.